By HOWARD ULMAN
AP Sports Writer
---- — FOXBOROUGH — Aqib Talib wants to leave his past troubles behind. The New England Patriots hope he can do the same for their secondary.
The cornerback’s career since he was drafted in the first round in 2008 has been marked by strong play and numerous off-field problems.
He’s had two NFL suspensions and a fight with a fellow Tampa Bay draftee at a rookie symposium. In May 2011, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but that was dropped last June 18.
“What happened in the past is the past,” Talib said yesterday. “I’m just looking forward to make the best of this opportunity and win some ballgames.”
Coach Bill Belichick traded with the Buccaneers for Talib before last Sunday’s 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills. He had to sit that out to complete a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, which Talib said was Adderall.
Belichick was brief when asked why he felt Talib would have no such issues with the Patriots.
“Any player that we bring here, we feel confident in bringing here or we wouldn’t bring him,” he said.
Talib said his new coach didn’t discuss his off-field troubles with him.
“We kind of just talked straight football,” he said. “He didn’t bring up the past. I didn’t bring up the past. He didn’t bring up the future. I didn’t bring up the future.”
For now, Talib is focused on the daily grind of learning a new defense and practicing to be ready for Sunday’s game against Indianapolis.
The Patriots lead the AFC East with a 6-3 record and the NFL’s best offense. Their pass defense is one of the worst; only four teams have allowed more yards through the air.
“The great thing about him is he’s a great athlete,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said of Talib. “Obviously, it’s not the easiest thing to just jump into something new, but he’s a great player, so I think he’ll be all right.”
Tampa Bay took Talib out of Kansas with the 20th pick in 2008. He’s started 45 of his 58 games and has 18 interceptions, three for touchdowns.
In four games this year, he had one interception and 21 tackles.
With the recent move of starting cornerback Devin McCourty to safety, where Patrick Chung has been sidelined for three games, there’s a spot for Talib to fill.
There’s also some uncertainty for Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arians.
“You don’t know if Patrick is going to play. You don’t know if Aqib is going to play,” he said. “You just know the coverages and the things that they’ve been doing and then what they’ve done in the past. You try to get your guys ready to play and really concentrate on their own games as much as you do on the opponent’s games.”
Talib’s first suspension without pay was for the regular-season opener in 2010 for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. That resulted from an altercation with a St. Petersburg cab driver during training camp in August 2009.
He also had charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas dropped a week before he was due to be tried for allegedly firing a gun at his sister’s boyfriend.
Asked what kind of person he was off the field, Talib shifted the focus back to his sport.
“I’m a competitor, man, on the field,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’re talking about right now, just football.”
Now he’s busy studying the Patriots’ defensive system so he can help a secondary that needs a boost.
“I did my best to stay in pretty good shape” during his suspension, he said. “It’s my fifth year in the league and I’ve played almost every coverage there is to play. So whatever they ask me to play, that’s what I’m going to play.”